Last week I was lucky enough to teach an Early Childhood Music class. This is a music lesson for pre-school aged kids. These particular kids were 3-and-4 year olds (mostly 4, I think), and there were about 20 of them. It was part of an Open Day program for Hillston Central School – a stroke of genius, I think (Hooray for Mrs Murphy!!)

It was a fabulous lesson. And I’m sitting here reflecting on it for so many reasons…. I don’t teach this age group much at the moment – I used to do it a lot. In fact, I had most of my training in it. It’s something that can be done really badly. But when it’s done well, it’s so wonderful for the children participating, in so many ways. It builds on social skills, aural skills, motor skills, vocal skills, patience, confidence – you name it, a good early childhood music lesson will probably cover it.

My most favourite part of these lessons is handing out instruments. You see kid’s faces light up. Mini cymbals? For me? And I can BANG them? Really? A lot? This is the BEST day EVER….

It reminds me to take pleasure in the small things, you know. One children let out a loud squeal of joy when he realised he was going to be able to play an egg shaker AND a bell AT THE SAME TIME.

So – adults out there. I know that we all have bad days. But this little boy reminded me of something. There’s a lot in those bad days that might be good, but we forget. Your car has heating? That’s a good thing. Someone made you a coffee? That’s brilliant!

And if someone gives you an egg shaker and a bell? Shake them will all your might. And squeal with happiness. You’ll feel better, you know…

I have messy hair. I deliberately make it messy. I neglect it on purpose, and love the fact that it’s unkempt. Of all the hairstyles I’ve had over the years (and there have been oodles), it’s probably the one I like the most – the one I think is most, well, me.

I know that as a classical musician, it’s not so normal. I am meant to walk on stage in smart black, with tidy hair, and sparkly jewelry. I am supposed to be part of an establishment. But I realised that the establishment wasn’t for me ages ago. I wear bare feet. There are no sparkles. My hair is everywhere. In fact, most of the time, I’m not walking onto a stage at all – just some floor somewhere. I have found the way I like to perform, and others seem to enjoy it too…

I know that the kids I teach love the hair. It’s part of the whole music teacher persona – a teacher who is a little bit different. Who makes them smile and laugh. Because a kid who is smiling and laughing is more likely to learn and to try things new, I have found. (And the teachers I work with worry more about what I deliver rather than what I look like. Well, to a point, anyway.)

I get comments – often from conservatively-dressed, older people. They don’t like the hair. But here’s the thing – I do. Very much. It’s part of me. As is the orange, the laugh, the energy and the slight disrespect for authority. And isn’t how I wear my hair so minuscule a matter? Don’t you want to talk to me about my politics, or how I feel about the education system? Or even my favourite recording of the Bach Suites?

I’m off to tease a few locks….

Once you hit the time of your life that I am (OK, I’ll say it. It’s middle age. I should be wearing twin sets and ranting about the stupid haircuts of the youth-of-today…), you don’t often make new friends. I mean, you have colleagues – perhaps from work, and you see them occasionally, but it’s not often you meet new people where you start to think of them as friends.

As a musician, this is slightly different, because you sometimes play with people and just fall in love with their musical soul, and so they become someone you trust. But this is a slightly different friend. You don’t know them, or their lives particularly well, but there’s a very deep and strong bond there, through the art of playing music together.

And then, as a teacher, it’s easy to make friends with other teachers, because you can always talk about the act of teaching – it is an endless topic. It bores EVERYONE else around you who isn’t a teacher. Some of these teacher friends of mine become actual friends as well, rather than just colleagues too.

But this other thing has happened to me over the past year that has surprised me. I did a year-long yoga course, over a number of weekends. It involved some pretty scary (well, for the precious musician here…) things. I was a long way from my comfort zone on most weekends. And I was helped – both physically (assisting by holding ropes, my hips, my knees, my legs. Not all at the same time, mind.), but emotionally by a number of other people who were doing the same thing. And I have a bunch of new friends from it. People who aren’t musicians (well, one of them is…), or teachers – but who have different jobs. One works in real estate, one is in a council, and some others I don’t really know what they do. And I really like seeing them. I know what they are up to over their weekends. I’m interested in it.

And, well, it has surprised me. Because I expected to get bendier. But I didn’t expect to get friendlier. It makes me hugely happy, you know!

I don’t teach cello privately much these days. Not at the moment. There are parts of it I don’t really like – and I was reminded of it a few days ago.

I’m a very good cello teacher, in particular for children in primary school. These children interest me – I like solving their learning problems as they learn to play the cello (which isn’t that easy to learn, if you are wondering). I like watching them learn to love the cello. I like watching their brains spark as they trust their creativity. I like getting to know them – hearing about what is important to them, what has made them happy or sad. Because that’s part of being a good one-on-one music teacher. (Actually, it’s part of being a good teacher in general…)

You see, if you are a good instrumental teacher you have a number of jobs to do. You are building your student’s skills on whatever instrument – but also their sense of self-belief, their creativity, their courage and their humour. You are part counsellor. You are part friend. You are part teacher. You have to instil a want to get better without being too strict. You have to allow your student to feel OK when they make a mistake  both in a lesson, and in a concert. You are teaching them resilience, and delayed gratification. You are teaching them to love something.

So my question is this…. If you ARE doing all these things, as a music teacher, why do parents think it’s OK to treat you like you are no better than say, a caterer for an event. (I’m sorry if there are any caterers out there reading this. I wasn’t sure what else to write. An un-trained car-washer?) Why do they think it’s OK to pay you late? Why do they think it’s OK to ask you to accompany your ex-student at the drop of a hat, (well, that part’s fine), but then get offended when you decline (that part’s not)? Why do they think it’s OK to demand, demand, demand?

I have friends who are one-on-one instrumental teachers, and they all have stories like this. It’s why I walked away and stopped teaching. Not because of the kids, but because of the parents. And you know what? I reckon these particular parents wouldn’t talk to their surgeons, or lawyers like they do to teachers – and yet we are the ones looking after their kids.

Or maybe they would.

I know you all know I have just been recording a heap of music. It all sounds very glamorous, doesn’t it? “I’ve been in the studio…”.

It’s not, you know. It’s hard work. And requires enormous amount of concentrating. And after all that sitting four four days, I got a really sore bum.

Some players I know really like it. But I am not one of those people. But I’ve written that before, in some blog post not-so-long-ago. But I am amazed at people who don’t really know what goes on. So, if you read this blog , and you do know what goes on then now is the time to walk away. See you next time I write. Hopefully then it’ll be something more engaging for you. Sorry ’bout that….

But if you don’t know what goes on, there’s a few ways. There are generally two ways….

WAY THE FIRST (probably didn’t get the ‘Messiah’ joke there. The music of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is in three parts. They aren’t numbered ‘Part A’ or ‘First part’, but ‘Part the first’, ‘Part the second’… I always found it odd. Now that I’ve actually explained my not-so-funny joke, it’s now even less funny. Even more not-funny. Ah well…) OK. Back to ‘Way the First’. Musicians play through the whole piece. If someone makes a mistake, everyone pretends it didn’t happen (and is secretly pleased it wasn’t them.) The players try and ‘perform’ the particular piece as much as possible, as they would in a concert. This is hard, as there’s no-one in front of you – just a bunch of leads, and microphones, maybe a tea mug. You do this three or four times. Then the producer will tell you if there’s a consistent problem – like “Guys, we need a clean bar 27.” Then you play just around that little part, and it’s eventually patched in. This is a fairly pleasant way of doing things. You can calm down, and really enjoy playing. It’s quite close to performing.

WAY THE SECOND You choose the chunk of bars you are going to tackle. Maybe from the start to the end of bar 12. Then you play just that part over and over again. Maybe 7-8 times? Just those bars. Then hopefully you get the thumbs up from the producer, and you move onto the next chunk. Totally unreal. For me, totally frustrating. For me, not-so-pleasant.

So now you know. Others may do this differently, but this seems to be the way most people work. The magic happens in the editing studio, with the super-patient editor and their ears. I am not the editor. I do not have the patience (if you know me, you can stop laughing now. I know… I have no patience AT ALL.).